The case for and against prog rock – part 1

I had the great fortune to spend last weekend in the recording studio with Tom Devaney laying down mostly keyboard overdubs for his new CD, “Vis-a-vis”.

Whenever I get together with Tom for longer than a few minutes, we always talk music, music history, pop music history, rock history, and funny lines from Spinal Tap. Tom came of age spinning punk records at WZBC in Newton, and has an entirely different ear than I do. I came of age ten years earlier spinning freeform (prog rock, jazz fusion, funk and musique concrete, etc) at WSRN in Swarthmore.

So Tom IMs me a link the other day, which I dutifully follow. (Hopefully, it’ll stay up on YouTube for all eternity…) This, as a result of a discussion where we were comparing and complaining about Yes and their discography. I maintained that I lost it for Yes when they issued “Tales From Topographic Oceans” – and I was at first disgusted with “Relayer”, because I had been a Rick Wakeman fan in high school. (That was before I discovered Herbie Hancock. Joe Zawinul. Chick Corea. And so on.)

But then, I ended up listening to (and actually buying second hand) a copy of Relayer, and it became a favorite late afternoon buzz listen. I actually enjoyed the sonic departure from what Yes had been.

OK, so now, after not having even heard that album since, say, 1979, Tom sends me this link and I get to see shrimpy little Jon Anderson chew his way through “The Gates of Delirium” – live no less. Boy, have I come a long way.

OK – disclaimer time, and I have a few:

  • I was a prog rocker in high school and early college.
  • Of all prog bands, my favorite was Gentle Giant.
  • I still think Todd Rundgren is OK, though I am no longer an avid fan. (Haven’t been since around 1978)
  • I never thought Todd was Godd.
  • I never saw Yes in concert.
  • I did see Todd Rundgren in concert, like, 3 or 4 times. Saw Pink Floyd too.
  • I was later in a punk/nu muzik band in the 80s

My musical taste runs from the gutteral to the over-intellectual, I guess. Gentle Giant for example: you could characterize their music as Palestrina meets Schoenberg, played on electric guitar, clavinet, fiddle, recorder and electric bass. The counterpoint they wrote still blows me away, and they did it very naturally. Seemingly effortless.

On the other hand, Yes didn’t stand the test of time with me. I just recently bought (secondhand) “Fragile” and “The Yes Album” and gave them a listen. I think I’m prepared to say that I don’t need to listen to them again for another 25 years, despite the fact that I used to listen to those records (when they were records) every day.

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